Hurricane warning

Hurricane warning

The 2005 hurricane season brought the transportation industry some of the worst problems it has encountered in decades. The immediate effects, of course, were no surprise to those familiar with the disruption of business inherent with any natural disaster.

Traffic was diverted, and roads were closed. The flow of goods and services was disrupted, because deliveries could not be made to hurricane-ravaged areas. Storage facilities were destroyed, and employees were pulled away to take care of their own property and families.

In the aftermath of the storms, transportation industry officials were again strained, not only with assessing the damage to their own facilities, but in dealing with customers whose freight had been damaged or delivery-delayed.

There was, however, a light at the end of the tunnel. During post-storm cleanup efforts, sectors of the transportation industry enjoyed an immediate surge in business. As the rebuilding efforts began, the need for durable goods and building materials helped us get back on track. Some trucking companies handled Federal Emergency Management Agency, while others began transporting generators, tools and household goods as the need arose.

So where does this leave us, on the cusp of hurricane season 2006? We must prepare now for future natural disasters, to minimize the impact on our facilities, employees and customers. In my years representing transportation businesses throughout North America, my clients and I have seen how hurricanes affect our livelihoods. Here are a few suggestions on how to minimize that impact:

-- Document your work. Document whatever steps you take to safeguard shipments and protect cargo from acts of God. If you have done everything you can to shield freight from natural disasters, you will have a much better chance of minimizing your exposure in the legal arena. In other words, be smart about it, and document how smart you were.

-- Back up your computer system. Before hurricane season, make sure your computers are backed up, preferably off site, and the programs to restore your business data are current. Practice restoring your system before the first storm. After the fact is not the time to test.

-- Set up an employee call network. Get employee phone and cell numbers and break your work force into groups. If there is a natural disaster, have one person in charge of calling everyone in their group, then reporting back to management.

-- Have adequate generator capacity. Make sure you have a generator that can run your facility. A reliable fuel source is a must. Set up the generator, and test it before hurricane season begins.

-- Stockpile supplies. Store nonperishable food items and other essentials that may be needed after a storm, to create an environment where employees will want to come to work. If you take care of your employees after a disaster, they will take care of you.

-- Train dispatchers on emergency procedures. Ensure that dispatchers have adequate notice to get employees and freight off the road and to a safe shelter as a storm approaches.

-- Secure your facility. Take basic precautions to protect your facilities and your customers' cargo. Bring freight inside a facility to protect it from inclement weather, or route shipments away from a terminal that is in the path of bad weather.

-- Plan for after the storm. Designate a team to assess damages and take stock of what's happened after the danger has passed.

Prepare for impending disasters so you, your employees and your customers will enjoy a quicker, more efficient and more relaxed road to recovery after hurricane season.